GENRE: Soap-operatic superheroics
THE PITCH: Fugitive scientist Bruce Banner (Edward Norton) seeks a cure for his anger-management condition that turns him into raging green giant. Meanwhile, one of his pursuers, aging soldier Emil Blonsky (Tim Roth), craves Hulk-like power, even at the risk of becoming "an Abomination."
MONEY SHOTS: A Bourne-worthy foot chase through a Brazilian favela (ghetto) ends with Bruce hulking out in a shadowy bottling plant. The Hulk takes on a pair of massive sonic cannons. (Hey, do we have those yet?) The Hulk snuffs out a deadly fire by clapping his hands together. The Hulk uses two halves of a police car as weapons in his slammin' final battle with the Abomination.
BEST LINE: "I can't get too excited," says Bruce, cutting off a passionate clench with fellow scientist Betty (Liv Tyler). "Not even a little excited?" Betty asks. Sure, you don't buy Tyler as a brainiac, but she and Norton bring warmth to their tragic love affair, which is part Beauty and the Beast, part Jekyll and Hyde, and part bad boyfriend who disappears for months, only to turn up to borrow money without warning.
FLESH FACTOR: Lots of shirtlessness from Norton and Roth, and at one point Norton crouches nude in a bathtub. The Hulk never tears out of Banner's stretchy pants, but the Abomination seems to be completely unclad, with his abominable junk mysteriously absent. Incidentally, the CGI Hulk's striated muscle tone seems a little too pumped up, as if he's on the verge of steroid overdose.
POP REFERENCES: The script features countless inside jokes for comic book fanboys, such as Tim Blake Nelson's amusing role as a scientist named after a major Hulk villain. But it's really a love letter for the old 1970s "Incredible Hulk" show with Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno, featuring shout-outs to everything from the show's opening credits to its "Lonely Man" piano theme music.
CAMEO APPEARANCES: Who doesn't have a cameo? Ferrigno not only turns up as a security guard, he provides the six or so words of the Hulk's spoken dialogue. Hulk co-creator Stan Lee gets his requisite walk-on out of the way mercifully early. There's also a highly touted visit from the star of another hero franchise, just to get audiences psyched for Marvel Comics' future films.
BETTER THAN THE PREVIOUS ONE? Yes. In sharp contrast to Ang Lee's sluggish, overthought Hulk from 2003, Louis Leterrier's do-over sequel maintains a snappy pace, emotionally vivid performances and even more CGI mayhem. Only occasionally does the film feel like an overcorrection, turning the melodrama into pure corn and cranking up the volume too loud.
THE BOTTOM LINE: Fast, freaky and sometimes funny, The Incredible Hulk combines a fanboy's love of the angsty source material with an action expert's command of big-screen carnage. It may not have the mass appeal of Iron Man, but all comic book movies should be at least this good.